Miller Trial Day Two: UMD Officials Explain Contract Decision

Baihly Warfield
Updated: March 07, 2018 11:19 PM

Court staff had to bring in extra chairs for day two of the trial in former UMD women's hockey coach Shannon Miller's discrimination case against UMD. 

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Miller is alleging when the university did not renew her coaching contract, she was discriminated against based on sex and retaliated against for complaints that UMD did not treat men’s and women’s sports equally.

Miller supporters, UMD staff, fans and others were all there to hear the first full day of witness testimony.

Lendley Black

First up was Chancellor Lendley Black, finishing his testimony from Tuesday.

Black explained more about UMD's financial situation around the time Miller's contract was not renewed. He testified that in the spring of 2014, UMD had somewhere around a $9 million deficit. 

When one of Miller's attorneys asked him about the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus' involvement, Black said they contacted him to offer assistance.

"They wanted to help us better tell the story considering the way this was playing out in the media," Black said. 

The chancellor also broke down his response to a letter from 12 state legislators asking for more details about the circumstances surrounding Miller's nonrenewal. 

Black said there were issues with attendance at games. The plaintiff's attorneys pointed to an attendance document that ranked UMD as either 3rd or 4th among Division I women's hockey programs between 2010-2015. 

He also wrote in his response to legislators that the "team's recruiting record has been spotty." He told the court he had gotten that information from Athletic Director Josh Berlo. 

Attorneys for UMD asked Black to talk about his initiatives around campus climate and diversity. He said he has seen improvements and is pleased with the work the athletic department has done in those areas. 

"It's important to me that we treat everyone with respect," Black said. 

Regarding individual departments' strategies for becoming more diverse, improving the climate and addressing bullying, he said Berlo had done "extremely well" with the athletic department. 

"He's tackled issues head-on," Black said. 

Black was also questioned on why others, such as UMD football coach Curt Wiese and men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin, had gotten contract extensions but Miller had not. Black said those teams were doing well competitively and academically, and the women's hockey academics were not as strong. 

Berlo's contract was also recently extended. 

"I think he's doing an outstanding job," Black said. "The overall performance of the athletic department is extremely good." 

Black said Berlo is "very well respected" on campus.

Other Witnesses

Herb Lewis, a UMD alum, donor and member of Black's Chancellor's Advisory Board, testified next.

Lewis said he had told Chancellor Black he did not support the decision to let Miller go. He said that Miller and Kathryn Martin, UMD's former chancellor, had asked him to check in with Black in the spring, before they knew her contract would not be renewed. 

Lewis testified there was no indication there were any problems but economic ones. 

John Gilbert, a longtime sports journalist, also testified on Miller's behalf. 

Gilbert said Miller was a creative coach who tried things other coaches wouldn't. 

"When she has full personnel...she's the best coach in women's hockey," Gilbert said. 

As he had many times, Gilbert interviewed Josh Berlo on his podcast shortly after the announcement. Gilbert said he "wasn't satisfied" with the financial explanation Berlo gave him to why UMD was not keeping Miller on.

Josh Berlo

Berlo, who has been at the center of much of the prior testimony, was next to take the stand. His testimony would last the rest of the afternoon. Some of Miller's supporters in the courtroom were anxious for Berlo's comments. 

He went through his background and explained his early interactions with Miller. He said when he came to UMD in May 2013, he knew her contract would expire soon. 

In April 2014, about eight months before Miller was told her contract would not be renewed, Berlo gave her a performance evaluation that called her work "competent." It included an explanation from him that she needed to improve in the 2014-15 season. 

Miller recorded two meetings she had with Berlo and Black and one meeting with just Berlo. Transcripts of those recordings were submitted as evidence. 

Dan Siegel, one of Miller's attorneys, also pushed Berlo on the explanations he gave in the meeting in which he and Black told her she would not be kept on as a coach. 

"It was a business decision in the best interest of our program," Berlo said in court Wednesday. 

Berlo said bringing up his and Black's concerns with the team's performance would just be rubbing salt in the wound. 

"I felt like Ms. Miller had had a great run at UMD," Berlo said.

However, he said based on finances, academics and some other factors, he felt it was time to move in a new direction. He said even if Miller would have agreed to work for $80,000 (as opposed to the $200,000 she was making in 2013-14), it was "very likely" UMD still would have moved on. He said for the performance they were getting, $80,000 was too much. 

Berlo also spoke to the hiring of the current UMD women's hockey coach, Maura Crowell. 

"I believe she has been very successful," Berlo said, citing the team's return to the NCAA tournament in 2017.

Before breaking for the day, UMD's attorneys asked him to outline the efforts he's made to support female athletics. Berlo spoke of UMD's celebration of the 50th anniversary of women's sports and said that a women's leadership forum they started in the 2015-16 year continues today. 

The trial resumes at 8:30 Thursday morning, and Berlo will be back in the witness chair then. It's expected to wrap up Wednesday, March 14.


Baihly Warfield

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